After reviewing the slides in the presentation “Options and Decisions on Human Exploration Discussion, August 5, 2009, my impression that the decision process ignores a needed focus on human space flight safety. How is it possible to prepare, review, debate, accept, and implement recommendations as to system architectures, operational capabilities, and specific system choices without first debating and establishing a human space flight safety framework that will enable the outcome of the panel’s deliberations to move U.S. human space travel substantially towards passenger-safe transportation? This represents an apparent fundamental flaw in the organization and execution of the panel in that it appears to lack appropriate representation of professional engineers experienced with assuring adequate passenger-safety in human transportation systems.

If the medical community were discussing the creation of a new medical policy to address a national healthcare need, fundamental to their deliberations would be creating recommendations consistent with professionally-approved healthcare protocols. Discussions of approaches that used non-medically-approved treatments, such as non FAA-unapproved drugs, would not be taken into the final phase of recommendation formulation unless such plans also called for the specific steps needed to first bring such treatments to approval status.

U.S. human space flight implementation has long ignored the responsibility to address the substantial weakness of current space transportation systems for passenger travel under the continued guise of “right stuff” astronauts. There was a time when such clear bravery was needed and greatly benefited the nation. However, all new transportation systems go through this phase and then, wisely, move on to implementing the improvements needed to increase safety from the “test-pilot” phase to that consistent with passenger travel. How can the U.S. move forward in its needed transformation into a true spacefaring nation–where Americans as spacefarers can routinely and safety travel to and from space–while ignoring a common sense regard for establishing reasonable passenger travel safety? Traveling to and from LEO is neither that vital nor that technically difficult with fully-reusable space access systems that passenger safety should be causally dismissed simply because this is the way it has been handled for 40 years.

The Human Space Flight Plans Committee needs to reassess requirements and solutions for achieving passenger-safe space travel and specifically factor this into its review, deliberations, and recommendations.

Mike Snead, P.E.
Spacefaring Institute LLC

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